The Castle Doctrine is an ugly videogame. I’m not talking about graphics, I mean morally: It emblazons the isolationist mentality that got Trayvon Martin killed.
Here’s the set-up. You, a married white guy with a couple of grand in the bank must construct barriers and traps to prevent other players from entering your house and stealing from your safe. You also have a wife and two kids to defend.
If somebody breaks in while you’re logged out of the game, your wife will grab half the money and make for the exit, leaving intruders with the option of either letting her go and taking what’s left in the safe, or killing her and claiming the loot in full. You can also invade other player’s homes.
It’s easy to see what’s wrong with this picture. Firstly, your wife is a passive object, to be protected in the same way as your money and your vault. Her value is only monetary. If she dies holding 2,000 of your dollars, it’s a setback because you’ve lost cash, not because a woman has died.
Secondly, the politics are indefensibly straightforward. The Castle Doctrine assumes that everyone who violates private property means to cause harm, and that stopping them by force is always acceptable. It fails to discuss mitigating factors such as geography, circumstance or the personal prejudices of the home-owner. It uniformly approves of the US legal principle from which it gets its name. It says anything is permissible in the name of self-defence.
The Castle Doctrine is morally bankrupt. But I want to keep playing it. I want to write about it, to think about it – I disagree with Cameron Kunzelman, who says we should “be so highly critical of The Castle Doctrine that we pretend like it doesn’t exist.”
Independent games are burgeoning. If they’re going to develop, every creative voice, no matter how repugnant we may find it personally, has to be encouraged to speak.
If not, independent games could slide into the same political homogeny as the mainstream.
AAA games are fiercely Republican. They espouse the military. They fetishise guns. They mistreat women. And as a result, as well as offensive, they’re often boring.
Over time, independent games risk slipping into the same groove. They appeal right now to people bored of the mass-market, people looking for something which challenges the assumed standards of what games should be. Today’s independent games are a rebellious force. Their stories are about love, pacifism and self-affirmation. In response to the mainstream right, they’re firmly on the left.
And if games like The Castle Doctrine are continually shouted down – if we demonise political views that aren’t necessarily our own – that is how independent games will remain. They won’t ever deviate. They’ll became as politically monotone as AAA shooters.
And how dull will that be? I recently saw Santiago Serra’s 160cm Line Tattooed Across Four People, a work of video art for which Serra paid four prostitutes a syringe of heroin each to allow him to tattoo an adjoining line across their bodies. It was exploitable. It was ugly. It was everything I hate. But if the whole exhibition had just been Jackson Pollocks’, I wouldn’t have gone. I want to be outraged by art. I want to know what’s out there.
This isn’t a defence of The Castle Doctrine. That game’s message, that white men can righteously empower themselves with guns, is prevalent across the industry and doesn’t need my support to withstand invective.
Instead, I’m cautious about drawing a line this early on. I don’t want to set a precedent where only independent games that suit our politics will be able to find a market in the future. I don’t want to be sat round a table where everyone agrees with me. I think art’s ability to enrage is equally as valuable as its power to satisfy. So long as it’s articulated, I want to know what people think.